Veteran, well-known aviator Ruotsala dies

Posted: Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Longtime Juneau resident Jim Ruotsala died Sunday night at Bartlett Regional Hospital after complications related to diabetes. He was 73.

A veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars, he was a well-known aviator who was honored for his work on the history of aviation in the Southeast.

A former commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Taku Post 5559, his death was announced at the Memorial Day ceremony at Evergreen Cemetery.

Funeral information was not immediately available Monday, and his family could not be reached for comment. But VFW Cmdr. Gerald Dorsher described him as a leader and a great man.

"We were like brothers," Dorsher said.

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Ruotsala wrote more than 80 published articles, had a collection of about 3,000 aviation photographs and a self-published book that won him a Denali Award. He was married to Janet Ruotsala.

He was born in Juneau on Feb. 17, 1934. He fell in love with flying at the age of 9, when he would spend his days at a hangar now known as Hangar on the Wharf.

"When I was a kid, pilots loved kids," he told the Juneau Empire in 2000. "There was a certain comradeship between adults and kids who loved planes."

During his 42 years in the military, including service with the U.S. Navy and U.S. Army Reserve, he received 21 medals and numerous letters of commendation. He remained active for many years as the commander of the 1st Civil Support Battalion, Alaska State Defense Force in Southeast.

After his military career, he became divisional manager at P.F. Collier in Honolulu for 11 years. He spent some time in Anchorage as marketing director for Air Alaska before returning to Juneau in 1991.

He liked to fish, fly and collect old photographs. He and his wife traveled extensively.



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